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A novel by Kitty Burns Florey

Review by Meg Blackburn

SOLOS, a new novel about artists, dog-walkers, and loft-dwellers in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is Kitty Burns Florey's "little valentine to the neighborhood." Florey is an author living just next door in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. With SOLOS, she illustrates a close-knit community where everybody knows a little bit about each other and landlords, hipsters, dentists, and even a few bad seeds become an extended surrogate family for people who live alone with their pets.

Says Florey, "What impressed me when I moved to Williamsburg 10 years ago was the feeling of community. People looked after each other. A lot of people didn't have much money and everybody I knew was some kind of an artist. This is a book about people who really hope for the best: for the world, and for each other, and for their work."

The cross-section of Williamsburg residents in this book walk their dogs in McCarren Park, eat Mexican food at Vera Cruz, order take-out from Thai Cafe (and they wonder whether PlanEat Thailand is just as good), and spend late nights together reveling over cocktails, home-baked pies, a good game of Scrabble, and the local gossip. Florey entertains us from summer through Thanksgiving with their day-to-day, simple yet fabulous lives.

While the eclectic atmosphere of the neighborhood plays a big role in the novel, and local readers will delight in the multitude of references to places they know, there's a lot of purely imagined fiction packed into Florey's kaleidoscopic vision. Readers far and near will find themselves intrigued by SOLOS' alternately moody, complicated, joyous, and quirky characters.

Free-spirited photographer Emily Lime lives in a loft in the same old spice factory on North 3rd and Berry that first enticed the author, Florey, to move from New Haven to Brooklyn. With its industrial freight elevator and large windows gazing across the river at the Manhattan skyline, Florey said the loft was love at first sight, and she moved in on a whim. SOLOS' main character Emily thinks the loft is a terrific home as well, even though she dreams of someday moving into the coveted penthouse upstairs.

While cinnamon dust sifts down from the creaky beams of Emily's colorful loft, palindromes swirl from her inquisitive mind. Each chapter starts with a palindrome, like "Was it a Rat I Saw?" Besides that, the book is set in the year 2002, in zip code 11211, and while Emily's dog is named Otto, even her own name (Emily Lime) works out.

Meanwhile, Emily contemplates romance with her dog-walker, whose own obsessions include the New York Times crossword puzzle and the names in the New York City phone book. Coincidentally, author Florey also calls upon the phone book, and a decades-old, dog-eared copy of a "What to Name Your Baby" book, for her characters' names.

Emily is falling in love with Marcus Mead, and though her Tragedy Club book group fills her head with melodramatic tales of unrequited love by the 19th century author Anthony Trollope, she has not lost hope. In fact, she continues to find comfort in the wordplay they both love.

"Marcus, she thinks. Marcus Mead. Dr. Maus came. Mama's cured. .... She is sitting by the window watching the lights come on across the river and munching the last Mallomar--dinner of Mallomars and tomato juice is pretty good, she is telling herself..."

Later Marcus and Emily share a similarly gourmet meal of Bloody Mary's and Halloween candy with a side dish of flirtation, but that doesn't help the fact that Marcus has been paid almost $10,000 to kill her. And suddenly it becomes clear that Florey's cloistered world is far from a safe haven of creative bliss and goodwill. It's suspenseful in a way that keeps the plot rolling right along, and the characters constantly in question.

"Murder for a Jar of Red Rum," you might call it (Chapter 10). It turns out that Marcus and Emily are practically stepmother and stepson, divorcee rejects of their too-close-for-comfort father/husband/scumbag Hart, who still haunts them both. What's worse, he has a crazy plan up his sleeve, and it's making tensions rise. As the mystery of SOLOS heats up to a surprising resolution and a fairytale ending that is both weird and wonderful, the neighborhood and its characters experience some unavoidable growing pains.

Ravenous realtors wait for the last unrenovated loft spaces to be vacated, artists struggle, and survival in a dog-walker's paradise is more difficult each day. The wealthy periodontists are buying art, raising its value to something worth killing for, and even Emily and Marcus must move upward and onward. But la vie boheme lives on, perhaps in the spring buds of Emily Lime's antique roses.

Florey's book is a true pleasure to read, leading readers into a world that delights in daydreams, good friends, and comforts like a happy dog and a cup of hot tea on a fall day. SOLOS feels real, maybe because it consists of characters who could never be plastic. They are nerdy, bright, strange and ebullient.

After racing through this addictive and loveable book, readers will be searching for other Florey material. She suggests SOUVENIR OF COLD SPRINGS, her 2001 novel which she says "also includes its share of young people trying to find their way in the world." In addition, Florey is working on a new book, about relationships, called IN PARIS WITH A LOVER.

SOLOS is an ideal choice for book clubs, as it has an excellent guide to discussion in the back of the book. At kittyburnsflorey.com readers can peruse the opening pages of the novel along with a biography of Florey and information about her other work. SOLOS is published by Penguin and is available at online at powells.com, amazon.com, and barnesandnoble.com.

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